Adenoma are non-cancerous tumors that grow on the glands. They can develop on any glands in the body, including those in the colon, breasts, lungs, and throat. In some rare cases, they may become cancerous over time, but many are completely harmless and cause few symptoms.
The glands responsible for developing these tumors are generally used for the secretion of fluids. Called epithelial cells, these structures help the body produce sweat, saliva, breast milk, and hormones. If the epithelial cells begin to grow rapidly, the result is often a small lump. When benign, or non-cancerous, the lump is called an adenoma. In rare cases, however, the growth may be cancerous, in which case it is known as an adenocarcinoma
The exact cause of these benign growths is unknown. Some doctors believe that hormone levels and genetics may play some part in development, but these links are not yet proved. Taking certain drugs, especially hormonal birth control, may increase the risk factor for developing these growths, but this, too, is uncertain.
Like cancer, benign glandular lumps can strike any person at any age, though some types of adenoma are more common to certain groups. Women, for instance, are much more likely to develop liver growths. Older adults also are more prone to developing non-cancerous masses on the colon.
The most common symptom of a glandular growth is the appearance of a lump in the skin. Depending on the location of the tumor, this lump may be extremely small, or quite noticeable. When the growth is on internal organs or buried deep in the body's tissue, doctors may not be able to see the lump without body imaging scans, such as MRIs. Other symptoms of adenoma include hormonal fluctuations that can wreak havoc on the body. Tumors growing on the
glands, for instance, may cause the gland to produce too many thyroid hormones. This can cause thyroid disorders such as hyperthyroidism or parathyroidism, which may lead to extreme weight loss or gain, metabolic changes, and the development of
In some cases, the symptoms can be nonspecific. Lung masses, for instance, may cause very generic symptoms that are easy to confuse with a cold or common virus. Fevers, coughing, fatigue, and body aches can all be symptoms of a benign growth, but are often attributed to another cause. If a person notices a lump while experiencing these symptoms, he or she may want to talk to a doctor.
Doctors may use a variety of tests to diagnose adenoma. If masses are suspected on internal organs, doctors usually order body image scans to locate the tumors. Colon adenoma are often detected by performing acolonoscopy
, which uses a flexible tube with a small camera attached to take pictures of the intestines and colon. If lumps are found, doctors take a small sample of the tissue to check for signs of cancer. Doctors may also perform blood and urine tests, seeking unusual hormone levels that indicate a growth on a hormonal gland.
Since some adenoma can eventually mutate into adenocarcinoma, doctors often recommend having the benign lumps removed. Growths near the skin's surface may be removed with a simple, outpatient surgery. Internal growths may require general anethesia and a more complex surgery, and can have a recovery period of several days or weeks. If the site of the mass is a hormone-secreting gland, doctors may try using hormone-balancing medications instead of surgery.
Benign vs. Malignant Growths
While both adenoma and adenocarcinoma develop as an overgrowth of cells, they are not the same thing. A major difference is that benign tumors do not spread to other organs or tissues, while malignant adenocarcinoma can. Occasionally, a mass can turn into an adenocarcinoma, even if it starts out as a benign growth of the epithelial cells. While this mutation is rare, and most benign tumors remain harmless, doctors usually suggest removing harmless them as a precaution.
Another important distinction is that the presence of benign growths is not linked to a significantly increased cancer risk. Many people spend their entire lives with small growths that cause no symptoms and never turn into adenocarcinoma. By contrast, developing a cancerous glandular growth may increase a person's risk for certain forms of the disease, such as lung and colon cancer.